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22.4: Primary Source: Lester Hunter, “I’d Rather Not Be on Relief” (1938)

  • Page ID
    252017
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    Lester Hunter left the Dust Bowl for the fields of California and wrote this poem, later turned into a song by migrant workers in California’s Farm Security Administration camps. The “C.I.O.” in the final line refers to the Congress of Industrial Unions, a powerful new industrial union founded in 1935.

    We go around all dressed in rags

    While the rest of the world goes neat,

    And we have to be satisfied

    With half enough to eat.

    We have to live in lean-tos,

    Or else we live in a tent,

    For when we buy our bread and beans

    There’s nothing left for rent.

    I’d rather not be on the rolls of relief,

    Or work on the W. P. A.,

    We’d rather work for the farmer

    If the farmer could raise the pay;

    Then the farmer could plant more cotton

    And he’d get more money for spuds,

    Instead of wearing patches,

    We’d dress up in new duds.

    From the east and west and north and south

    Like a swarm of bees we come;

    The migratory workers

    Are worse off than a bum.

    We go to Mr. Farmer

    And ask him what he’ll pay;

    He says, “You gypsy workers

    Can live on a buck a day.”

    I’d rather not be on the rolls of relief,

    Or work on the W. P. A.,

    We’d rather work for the farmer

    If the farmer could raise the pay;

    Then the farmer could plant more cotton

    And he’d get more money for spuds,

    Instead of wearing patches,

    We’d dress up in new duds.

    We don’t ask for luxuries

    Or even a feather bed.

    But we’re bound to raise the dickens

    While our families are underfed.

    Now the winter is on us

    And the cotton picking is done,

    What are we going to live on

    While we’re waiting for spuds to come?

    Now if you will excuse me

    I’ll bring my song to an end.

    I’ve got to go and chuck a crack

    Where the howling wind comes in.

    The times are going to better

    And I guess you’d like to know

    I’ll tell you all about it,

    I’ve joined the C. I. O.

    [Source: Lester Hunter, “I’d Rather Not Be on Relief” (1938). Available online via Archive of Folk Culture, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/folklife/archive.html.]

     

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